IGW Games

modern code, retro games


Interview with 8bit-ninja

I was recently interviewed about Retro Puzzle Maker by 8bit-ninja.de! You can find the interview here. The interview is in German, so if you can’t read German, I’ve reproduced the interview in the read more section.

8-bit-ninja: Could you please introduce yourself?
Sarah: Hi! I’m Sarah, and I’ve been making homebrew games for about 10 years. Most of my focus has been on short game jam-style games to test concepts, with a few exceptions. In the past few years, I have put my focus on making tools to help others make games for the NES. Some of those include Retro Puzzle Maker and create-nes-game.

8-bit-ninja: Could you talk a bit about the reasons and motivations behind developing Retro Puzzle Maker? As far as I understand the software was last updated over a year ago, but seems to pick up some steam recently. Any idea why that is?
Sarah: My goal with Retro Puzzle Maker is to make creating a game for the NES approachable to more people. This is the goal behind most of my tooling – to lower the barrier of entry for retro development. You can make a game with just a web browser – even the one on your phone if you’re so inclined. For the tech-savvy, the engine is open source and ready to be hacked on, too.
As for why it’s picking up steam recently, I’m not really sure but I’m a fan! I think some of it may have been games entered into the 2022/2023 nesdev coding compos getting some attention. One of them was made into a pretty polished game soon after, too! (Fun fact, I actually broke compatibility with the competition pretty close to the deadline in 2022, and had to scramble to fix it!)

8-bit-ninja: The Famicom just celebrated it’s 40th birthday. What do you think is so fascinating about this old – and rather limited – system that there is still software developed for it?
Sarah: I think there are two big things working for it. First. there is a really healthy dose of nostalgia attached to it. I know I grew up with a NES in my home, and always dreamed of making my own games for it. Now I’m an adult with a real job and programming skills, and I can fulfill that dream! I don’t think I’m the only one, and the tools for the platform keep getting more approachable.
The second reason is specific to development – in some ways the limitations of the console are an advantage. The hardware answers a whole lot of questions for you – for example, you’re probably not going to be making a 3d open world game, your screen has a (mostly) guaranteed size, and your art has to be in a specific low-fidelity style. I find this makes it easier to focus on the game itself. Plus, an NES emulator can run almost anywhere, so it’s surprisingly portable.

8-bit-ninja: Do you think that Software like Retro Puzzle Maker or GB Studio is a good entry-point to start developing games for retro systems?
Sarah: I certainly think so! I think GB Studio in particular is a fantastic entry point. GB Studio succeeds in allowing people to make complex games with little-to-no programming experience, while opening even more doors for power users.
Retro Puzzle Maker is much simpler, which might make it more approachable to beginners – it will nudge you to learn about the graphical limitations of the console, but otherwise gets out of your way and lets you make your game. If you’re driven it gives you all the tools to hack on the code and make it your own, too.
Both tools help by answering even more of the questions about your game for you, meaning you need to learn less. The tools can also implicitly teach you about the console just by how they work. If you decide to approach programming a game manually after using these tools, making games with either tool will give you a leg up.

8-bit-ninja: Do you follow what games have been made with Retro Puzzle Maker? If so, is there something that you are impressed by, maybe even surpassing what you thought the engine was capable of?
Sarah: I try to follow games made with it as closely as I can! If a game created with Retro Puzzle Maker has been published to itch.io and is remotely obvious, I’ve probably tried it. I find it extremely encouraging to see people using the tool, and that helps give me energy to keep updating it. (And yes, the tool is overdue for another update.)
As for games that impressed me, there are two to speak of. The first is Senseless City, by the amazingly talented Rani Baker. (Rest in Peace) She made a number of clever tweaks to the engine through rom hacking, and I was honestly pretty blown away. She was able to add a character select and multiple palettes, amongst other features. She also made a longer game called Graveyard Dude that had great puzzles, and she definitely rom hacked a little into that one too!

The second is Tweak’s Fish Biscuit Fiasco by the ever-talented M-Tee, with music by Jordan Davis. (aka Raftronaut) It isn’t out just yet, but it’s an educational game based on M-Tee’s young child’s favorite TV show. M-Tee is a teacher by trade, and is able to turn the engine into an educational tool to encourage motor control development incrementally. I had never even considered someone using it for this, but it made me happy to see! He was able to enhance the engine with additional graphical features to make the game look polished. His daughter was able to experience it early on, and he’s working with me to polish it up for release. Keep an eye out for a free download in the near future!

8-bit-ninja: Are you planning on expanding Retro Puzzle Maker? Are there any features you want to add  or maybe even making the engine suitable for other gameplay mechanics or even genres?
Sarah: I am definitely planning to expand Retro Puzzle Maker further – I’m hoping to make an update some time this year with a few often-requested features – including custom sound effects, and proper animation for block movement. (Finally!) I have a few other ideas I’m toying with as well, but I’m not quite confident enough that I can complete them to share just yet. Unfortunately the codebase has gotten pretty complex, and I have to be very careful with memory management for the rom. Building features without adding new bugs is a careful balancing act.
I’d also really love to make the engine suitable for new genres, and have dreamed about it a lot. It would be fun to adapt this for for adventure games, or maybe even platformers. Unfortunately I have pretty limited time these days between my job, volunteer work for a convention, and another game project, so I can’t promise anything like that is coming. Plus, that would take more time away from Retro Puzzle Maker, which needs attention!

8-bit-ninja: Is there anything else you want to talk about or promote?
Sarah: Other than Retro Puzzle Maker, I also have a short game coming for the Nintendo E-Reader! Years ago, I released a short game called Dizzy Sheep Disaster. I’m currently working on revamping that game with help from M-Tee. Expect enhanced graphics, story, new music, and some new levels! Follow me on MastodonBlueSkyTwitter, or my personal site for updates on that!
For the more code-inclined, I also have a project called create-nes-game that takes the challenge out of setting up nesdev tools. Download the windows/linux binary, then run it and you will be prompted to answer a few questions about your project. From there, it will create some starter code and download all tools needed to compile it. After that, you can simply run `create-nes-game build` to build your game, and `create-nes-game run` to start an emulator. It supports both C and assembly language projects, and can also set up tutorials including Nerdy Nights and nes-starter-kit.

8-bit-ninja: Thank you for the interview
Sarah: Thank you as well, it’s been a pleasure.